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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Tragedy · #567686
What is the cost of true love? How far would you go to protect it?
         Jack sat alone in his small, dark room studying the shades of gray that filtered in through the small, stained window near his bed. With trembling hands, he tapped a Winston out of the soft pack and placed it to his dry lips. In a flash of hot sulfur, he drew deeply, paused and then slowly exhaled over the match, extinguishing it. Another long, full drag eased the shaking of his hands. After the third, he fell back onto his bed and closed his eyes, trying to clear the thoughts that battered his brain. How did things ever get this far? When will they end? Will my family forgive me? Do they even care?

         “To hell with it,” he said, sitting up in hurried anger. Another long drag on the smoke had it down to the brown of the filter and Jack flicked it against the far wall, the orange-red tip exploding on impact. He stood up, walked to the window and looked out over the yard. It had been a cold winter and the early season’s snow still clung to the ground in sickly, gray patches. He hoped he’d see someone - anyone - outside in the darkness that he could talk to or even just watch from a distance to keep his mind occupied, if only for a while. Since it was near 10:00 P.M., the outside air was as cold, dark and quiet as the silence he was attempting to flee. Jack turned away from the window, disappointed.

         He walked to the foot of his bed, knelt down and reached underneath it. After a moment of blind searching, his hands found their intended target - a small, cardboard shoebox, tattered and musty with the age and dampness of sitting on the tile floor of a basement room for ten years. Jack picked up the box, sat back on the bed and switched on his table lamp. Gently, he pulled the top from the box and looked inside with a sigh and a smile. Dozens of letters were stacked neatly together, nestled among photos of a pretty, auburn-haired girl with big, brown eyes. A single, dried, red rose, depleted of most of its petals, lay in the bottom. The fallen petals had been placed into a Ziploc bag and tucked under the withered stem. Grabbing the top letter, Jack brought it to his nose and inhaled deeply. The faint scent of perfume lingered on the yellowed paper. He closed his eyes as he breathed in, relishing the memory of bygone days. Just as deeply, he opened his mouth and exhaled until it felt as if he had not one molecule of air remaining in his lungs. Another deep breath brought a tear, which ebbed slowly and trickled down his left cheek to his chin. Jack wiped it away, unfolded the paper and began to read:

         “Dear Jack,

         How’s your day going? I hope better than yesterday. I’m at work (bored as usual) and thinking of you…” Jack laughed to himself, knowing her meaning, despite the words on the page, and read on: “…I can’t wait until this weekend! We’re still going up to the cabin, right? I can’t wait. My dad would kill me if he knew where I was going. He thinks you’re a bad influence on me, but don’t worry about him. That’s just how he is. I packed a special bag for our trip. It’s not very big, but then again, it doesn’t really need to be, nothing inside it is very big either (ha). I hope you’re as excited as I am (just not too excited). It’ll be great! I could go anywhere with you and be happy. See you soon – call me.

         Love (I mean it),*Heart**Heart**Heart*

         - Em”.

         His smile was ear to ear as he sat and pondered the letter, reminiscing over how he met Emily and how happy he was when they were together. Another tear fell. He picked up the picture of his sweetheart that he remembered taking on their “first anniversary” as a couple. They had gone to dinner and Jack surprised Emily with a diamond ring he’d bought in the hope that she would someday agree to be his wife. He reflected again over the letter and how she first told him she loved him. Both of them had been in relationships where the word “love” was batted back and forth, like a birdie in a badminton game - one person always trying to score with it by landing a well-placed shot. Jack himself had been guilty of using the “L” word on different girls, hoping only to uncover precisely what their fathers would do anything and everything to protect. When Emily pointed out she loved him at the end of her note, he knew it was real. And he knew that he felt it too. She made sure that Jack understood she was sincere. He never had a doubt. Jack tenderly brought the picture to his lips and kissed it. “I love you,” he told it, stroking her hairline gently with his fingers. And another tear fell.

         One by one, Jack read the stack of letters exactly as he’d received them. He kept them in chronological order, tucked away in the box with his memories. He laughed, he cried, he smiled, as he relived the images of days and nights spent in love with the most beautiful girl in the world. For hours, Jack reveled in the thought of unconditional love and how lucky he was for having experienced it. He recalled that his time with Emily was the only time in his life where he wanted to be with only one person. He didn’t touch, look at or even think about any other girls when they were a couple, and that amazed him. How could one person fill so many holes in another’s life and still fulfill every expectation of that person? How could someone give so much hope and happiness to someone else without expecting anything in return? Love, he thought, it’s the only way.

         Jack got to the final letter and again his hands began to shake. He reached for the pack of Winstons and tapped another onto the bed. Trembling, he lit it and inhaled. The first empty puff brought no comfort, nor did the second or third. His shaking hands unfolded the page:

         “March 14,

         My Dearest Jack,

         By the time you read this, I’ll be gone. My father is making our relationship completely impossible. He thinks that I’m stupid for being with someone with a “past”, whatever that means. I told him the past is the past and that you and I have a future together. I know that you and I would be first in each others' lives, but he won’t listen. He never does. I know that I could never convince him that I love you and that you love me too, no matter what he says. That’s why I’ve got to get away, even if it means giving up what I know is right - even if it means giving up our love. I can’t live with the thought of my dad hating me. I’m sorry. Please don’t call me or try and see me. You can’t change my mind. You’ll find somebody else who can love you and appreciate you and deserves you. Please forgive me. I promise that someday you will realize that I did the right thing and you will be better off for this. I’m so sorry. Please, please don’t hate me. I love you.

         Love always and forever,

         - Emily.”

         Jack cried openly, his tears falling onto the paper as they had so many years before, mixing with and blurring the images on the page and in his mind. He remembered calling Emily’s house, but she wouldn’t speak to him. She told him that her father was right and that he shouldn’t call her anymore. Jack protested, claiming their love was the most important thing to him. He would do anything to be with her. His pleas fell upon deaf ears – she echoed her father’s words in response to everything:
"You'll never be first in his life..."
"He'll always have that baby..."
"She's going to take all his time and money, there will be nothing left for you..."
"And what about her mother? You don't think she won't be in the picture?"

         The more Jack tried to convince her that her father was wrong, the more she cried and told him it could never be; their relationship was over. She was leaving and it was final. Emily even told him she didn’t love him; she made a mistake. Her dad was right. With that, she hung up the phone.

         Jack tried to call her back, but got only the monotone buzz of an occupied phone line. He ran to his car, the letter clutched firmly in his left hand, started it and flew to her house with reckless abandon. Tears streamed down his face despite his countless, futile attempts to wipe them away. Her car was the only one in the driveway as Jack pulled up. Good, he thought, her parents aren’t here. I can talk to her and fix this whole thing. He jumped from his car and ran up the front porch steps. Composing himself as best he could, Jack knocked on the glass of the storm door.

         No answer.

         He pulled open the storm door and knocked on the wooden entry door.

         No answer.

         “Em?” he said, knocking again with the side of his fist. “Emily? It’s me, Jack. We need to talk… Em?”

         No answer.

         He knew the house well and decided to go around back to where Emily’s bedroom was. The window was closed, blinds pulled shut. He could hear the sound of music coming from inside and recognized the tune:

         *“…It’s been a lifetime
         Since I found someone
         Since I found someone who would stay
         I’ve waited too long, and now you’re leaving
         Oh please don’t take it all away…”

         Jack slapped the glass with both hands. “EM!” he shouted, hoping for a response.

         No answer.

         He pounded with clenched fists on the window, shattering it and sending pieces of glass flying around him in a loud crash. He climbed through the hole, pushed away the blinds and fell to the floor in a heap. He looked up and his heart stopped. Jack couldn’t believe his eyes – across the room, his darling girl lay in a pool of blood.

         “Oh my God,” he said. “Emily!”

         He picked himself up and ran to her, pulling her limp body into his arms. The gun fell from her left hand to the floor with a thump. Jack pushed the matted hair from her face to reveal nothing but a vacant stare that tore into his soul. Her mouth hung open, blood-soaked hair clung to the sides of her head.

         “No…No…No,” he cried. “Why? …No… Emily… Please God… No!” Jack kissed her and squeezed her as hard as he could. Her skin was still warm, but grew colder as blood flowed from the exit wound in her skull and over his hands as he stroked her hair. He cursed her father’s name as he felt her blood on his lips. He cursed God. And he cried. Jack stood and picked up the gun, studying it. Her father bought it many years earlier to protect his family, but it had instead taken Emily's life. Jack put the barrel into his mouth, closed his eyes and squeezed the trigger.

         “Click,” it replied.

         He squeezed again.


         In that moment, Jack knew silence like never before. The song had ended and he stood alone, above the body of the only girl he had ever loved. The only girl he ever would love. He gripped the gun tightly in his right hand. The last words of his beloved were clutched in his left. He lowered his head and cried.

         A knock on the door startled him. “Come on Jack. It’s time,” said a voice from outside. He stood up, wiped his eyes and walked toward the door as he heard the great, iron key undo the lock.

         “You know the rules,” said the voice.

         Jack turned away from the metal door and crossed his arms behind himself, as he had done many times over the past ten years.

         "What'cha got in your hand there Jack?" The guard asked.

         "Nothing... It's personal..." Jack stammered as he clutched the letter tighter.

         “You can't take that with you.”

         “Why not? What's the difference?”

         The guard thought for a minute. “Nothing, I guess. Come on. Father’s waiting for you.”

         Jack walked the long, dark corridor in silence; his head bowed slightly, the letter still firmly in his grasp. He thought about the past ten years: the trial, the psychological examinations, his conviction, the sentencing, the appeals made by his well-meaning, court-appointed attorney and the countless days and nights spent reliving the worst day of his life. Only one thought stood out among the blur – Emily’s father’s face when he heard the “Guilty” verdict being read. Jack remembered his stern look, eyes ablaze with hatred, studying his every move. The only comment her father made throughout the trial was after the verdict, when Jack was being led away by the bailiffs: “I hope you rot in hell, you bastard."

         Father Brennan, who was waiting in a small room at the end of the corridor, stood when he heard the knock upon the door.

         “Time to pay for your crimes,” said the guard as he opened the door, motioning Jack inside.

         “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” the priest began. “My son, let the Lord bless and keep you. If you seek the forgiveness of God, you shall have it on Earth as in Heaven.”

         Jack didn’t respond, he didn't know how. He stared at his shoes and wondered if he was doing the right thing. Should he defend his innocence now in front of God or should he remain silent, as he had for ten years? Should he let Emily’s family have justice served, preserving the memory of a beautiful girl, cut down needlessly in the prime of her youth by a jilted ex-lover? No answers came. He thought of Heaven and Hell. He thought of his family. He thought of Emily’s dad and about prison life. He thought about Emily and about how he would never see her beautiful face again. The image of her corpse haunted him instead. His heart rose in his chest, feeling as if it would pop out of his mouth if he opened it. He trembled noticeably.

         “My son, are you alright?”

         Jack cleared his throat. “Do you believe it Father? I mean in the realm of Heaven and of God’s will?”

         “Of course my son. The Lord would never deny those who ask his forgiveness and seek his shelter. God loves you, my child.”

         “Then God, forgive me. I’ve waited for ten long years. Now I know that I am doing the right thing and that I will be better off for this.”

         “Amen,” replied the priest.

* "Before the Dawn" - Written by Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton.
© Copyright 2002 Matthew C. (mclafferty at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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